HOMER -- Halibut is king in this popular seaside community, but don't tell that to Dan Perkins.
On a gloomy, rainy Saturday morning, the 62-year-old from San Diego cast a bright pink Vibrax into the Nick Dudiak Fishing Lagoon, known to locals as the Fishing Hole or just "the lagoon." All that mattered to Perkins was catching a chrome king salmon fresh from Kachemak Bay, providing lunch for his wife (who preferred to stay dry inside their RV), and celebrating a new chapter in his life. Ten weeks ago, Perkins retired from a career in carpentry.
"The first thing I wanted to do was come to Alaska and catch a king," he said as rain trickled off the hood of his blue rain jacket.
Perkins got the retirement party rolling when he hooked a nice-looking chinook that weighed close to 12 pounds. Not exactly a whopper. But then, catching a trophy king salmon at the Fishing Hole on the Homer Spit isn't exactly the point.
The lagoon is named after a former state biologist who came up with the idea of creating this terminal fishery. It's stocked with king and silver salmon smolt from the William Jack Hernandez Hatchery in Anchorage. Smolts are released into the seven-acre lagoon and left to mature in open water. They return to the lagoon looking for a stream in which to spawn, but are fooled when they realize it's a dead end.
Unfair? Perhaps, but the Fishing Hole is still a legitimate place to catch kings, silvers and even Dolly Varden. Some anglers call it the poor man's charter boat.
Not everybody who drives to Homer has the funds to book a full or half-day charter. So for those who can live without catching halibut, the Fishing Hole can be a good alternative. It gives roadside anglers an opportunity to catch a saltwater salmon from its rocky shore without fighting seasickness or risking wet feet.
Fishing can be hit or miss, locals say. The trick to catching a salmon here is to know when to hit the tide, which enters through a narrow corridor of rocks.
Roy Schwalbach and his 6-year-old son Luke hit it just right Saturday morning. Roy hooked into a king about two hours before high tide. He passed the 10-weight fly rod off to Luke. Visiting Alaska from Ocean City, Maryland, Luke was so excited he nearly lost the rod when he saw the king surface and thrash in the water.
"Daddy, Daddy!" Luke screamed. "I see it! I see it!"
With a little encouragement from his father, Luke was able to land the jack, a small male chinook. "His first one ever," Roy said.
Across the lagoon and up the rocky embankment, Homer fisherman Tom Schroeder sat on a bench near the parking lot, watching the action from above. The retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist reached his seasonal limit days ago, but that didn't stop him from checking things out.
"You're fishing too shallow," Schroeder barked at a friend of his down below, who was sitting on a bucket while fishing for kings with herring and a bobber.
Schroeder worked for Fish and Game for 25 years. Originally from Colorado, he moved to Alaska for an entry-level job counting salmon from a tower in a remote region of Bristol Bay in Southwest Alaska. Over the years, he became a guru of the Fishing Hole. This year it has been especially good for king fishing.
"Best I've seen in five years," Schroeder said.
Schroeder likes to keep a mental tally of the kings he sees people catch in the lagoon, but this year has been a challenge.
"There's been so many I've lost track," he said.
Georgia's Bruce Barrows knew exactly how many fish he has caught.
"One 13-pound king, two Dollys, three pollock and some really fat jacks," he said.
Like many Outsiders who drive here during the summer, the 45-year-old angler can't get enough of what Alaska has to offer.
"Every time you look up, it's like you're in heaven," he said.
The daily bag and possession limit for the Fishing Hole is two per day for kings and six per day for silvers. Snagging is currently prohibited.
Aside from the Fishing Hole, anglers in Kachemak Bay are reporting good catches of halibut and rockfish in shallower waters with herring on circle hooks. Halibut brought to the Homer Harbor and sampled by Fish and Game ranged from 4.8 to 63.4 pounds.
Anglers can also try fishing at the end of Homer Spit near the hotel. Species include walleye pollock, Pacific cod, salmon and a variety of flatfish.
Both the China Poot personal dipnet fishery for salmon and the lingcod season open Tuesday, July 1. Remember, the Anchor River, Deep Creek, Ninilchik River and Stariski Creek are closed to sport fishing until Monday, June 30.
KENAI RIVER/UPPER KENAI
On Tuesday, the daily bag limit for sockeyes increased to six per day and 12 in possession on the Russian River and from Skilak Lake to 300 yards upstream of Sportsman's Landing on the upper Kenai River. This emergency order by Fish and Game officially opened the Russian River Sanctuary.
Anglers headed to the Russian River on Sunday were greeted with a long line of cars. The line just to get into the campground and the day-use area extended all the way to the Sterling Highway and beyond.
Every day since Friday, 3,000 or more sockeyes have been counted at the weir, located at the outlet of the Lower Russian Lake. The water level keeps rising and so does the total fish count, which stood at nearly 31,000 Tuesday.
A 260.6-pound halibut caught last Friday by Colorado angler Mark Callister aboard the One Day took over as the top fish in the Seward Halibut Tournament. Monday is the final day of the tournament. The winner takes home $5,000.
It's too early to think about the Resurrection Bay silver salmon run, but anglers can still try to catch some of those sockeyes at the head of the bay, which have offered excellent fishing according to Fish and Game.
PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND
Halibut fishing has been good to excellent out of Valdez and Whittier. Places like Applegate Island and holes north of Crafton Island are recommended for anglers heading out of Whittier. For rockfish, try the north end of Knight Island and use small jigs along rocky reefs.
Saltwater kings can be targeted along the shoreline in the Whittier area for those anglers who don't have access to a boat.
King fishing is still productive at the Deshka River and Eklutna Tailrace. Anglers at the tailrace use eggs, but they've been catching them on Vibrax spinners, too. With the exception of the Little Susitna River, which is closed to king fishing for the remainder of the season, Parks Highway streams are catch-and-release only for kings from Saturday to Monday.
UPPER COPPER/UPPER SUSITNA
The Upper Copper River sport fish limit for sockeyes has been increased to six per day, six in possession. This area includes the Gulkana and Klutina rivers. The bag limit for kings has been reduced to one for the Copper River drainage.
Symphony Lake opens to fishing on Tuesday, with grayling available in the beautiful mountain lake. Also, a youth fishery on Campbell Creek runs Saturday and Sunday. Anglers 15 years and younger are allowed to catch a king from the Old Seward Highway downstream to Dimond Boulevard.
Kevin Klott is a longtime Anchorage reporter and veteran angler.